Rich moms, poor moms

At the age of 10 and 11, children of educated, high-earning mothers score lower on cognitive tests and are more likely to be overweight if their mother works outside the home, when the kids are young. So says a new study published in Labour Economics. However, children of less-educated, lower-income mothers who worked in outside jobs did as well or better than children of stay-at-home moms. From Newsweek:

Most likely, says (researcher Christopher) Ruhm, the low-status kids get more intellectual stimulation in day care or with other caretakers, such as grandparents, than they do at home. Meanwhile, the high-status kids may find day care less enriching than being with their highly educated mothers. When these moms go back to work, “you’re pulling the [high-status] kids out of these really good home environments,” says Ruhm, “and a lot of the alternatives just aren’t as good.”

If Sarah Palin weren’t the Republican vice presidential nominee, would this study have made Newsweek?

About Joanne


  1. That’s interesting.

    What this study WON’T show are results when there is a stay-at-home DAD with the young children. We actually have 2 neighbors who did this, and the children are very well adjusted and have always done well in school. In one of those families, the dad was just more nurturing, and in the other, the Mom had a better-paying career.

  2. Miller Smith says:

    High income moms tend to be high I.Q. moms. Poor moms tend to be low I.Q. moms.

    When the high I.Q mom goes back to work her child is denied that I.Q. interaction with the high I.Q. mom and is now with a group of other children and adults who tend to be average at best. The child will do worse.

    When the low I.Q. mom goes back to work, their child is now in an average I.Q environment and will now do better.

    This isn’t about moms staying home o=r not, but the power of I.Q.

  3. When I worked with lots of low-income families, I noticed that in single parent families where the mom was working–even at some really pitiful low-wage jobs, the kids had a different sense of themselves than kids whose mothers elected to keep welfare benefits, or those who had man who earned the “bread.” While I couldn’t bring myself to a judgement of the relative value of welfare vs work (given the loss of medicaid that came with working), I did observe that if I could wave a magic wand and provide either a job or a husband, I would go with the job.

    I am guessing that the self-esteem effects on non-working mothers are off-set in upper income families so that kids can enjoy a cognitive boost.

  4. Don’t forget the genetics, Miller. Don’t you think that would be a significant factor?

  5. Eh. As often as not, she takes the kids to work with her. That group wasn’t included in the study.

  6. This reminds me of something I read once, that the best correlation of elementary students’ achievement is to the IQ of their teacher. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is it sure says something about the ed school mentality and the preparation of elementary teachers.

  7. I assume your last question is rhetorical.

  8. I think it speaks more about the type of mom who chooses full-time employment when she could afford to stay home instead. Moms who are working for selfish reasons rather than out of economic necessity are less likely to make a real effort to provide high-quality interactions with their kids during their non-working hours. I see this all the time in my social circle.

  9. “working for selfish reasons”?????

    Might those reasons include such things as wanting to make a contribution to the world beyond the house in the suburbs? Or to make use of a high priced education (even if the loans are already paid off)? Or to set an example for her daughters that they can choose from many options as adults? Or just wanting to avoid the depression and frustration that plagued my mother and many others of her generation–intelligent women who were indoctrinated to believe that their highest calling was to stay at home and do laundry to assure that their husbands had clean white shirts?

    Personally, I don’t have a “social circle.” I am too busy having high-quality interactions with my kids AND working “outside the home.”

  10. I think what Crimson Wife means by “selfish reasons” is that they may count their careers far more important than their kids, or maybe they simply don’t like their kids. Maybe they work a lot of hours outside the home to get away from both husbands and kids.

    Before you jump to conclusions, M/M, ask for clarification. When I was in elementary and high school, I can remember my friends telling me that Mommy worked because she wanted to get away from them.

    Personally, I’d have preferred my mother have worked so *I* could have gotten away from *her*, but I’m weird. ;D

  11. All of those goals can be achieved through career sequencing and/or part-time employment. There’s a big difference between getting married straight out of high school/college and never working outside the home (the norm in the 1950’s) and putting one’s career on the back burner for a few years while one’s kids are small.

    My mom worked full-time before she had kids, then very part-time while we kids were young, and then she went back full-time. She’s likely making less money and not have as fancy a job title as a result but that’s not important to her. Putting her family first was.

    I’m planning to follow a similar path, although I’ve decided to be a full-time homemaker rather than trying to work part-time. There are a number of reasons for that- my kids are closer in age to each other than my siblings and I were, my husband works a lot longer hours than my dad did, my parents had decent public schools available where they lived & we unfortunately don’t so if I didn’t homeschool I’d have to work full-time just to pay for private schools, etc.

  12. “Before you jump to conclusions, M/M, ask for clarification.”

    And I can safely assume that Crimson has clarified with all the members of her social circle that their reasons for working are in fact “selfish” ones?

    “…my parents had decent public schools available where they lived & we unfortunately don’t so if I didn’t homeschool I’d have to work full-time just to pay for private schools, etc.”

    I would suggest that having decent public schools is less a matter of “fortune” and more a factor of the community (including all of the parents) to take responsibility for all of the children (not just those in their own house) and see that the public schools are adequately funded and held to a high standard of education. Public education is far less likely to be “decent” when it is viewed as the default for those who cannot afford private education or home-schooling.

  13. Miller Smith says:

    How in the world did the Dems end up sounding like dirty male chavinist pigs and the GOP sound like feminists?

    The whole world has been turned upside-down.

  14. M/M- I know what these womens’ husbands do for a living and can see for myself what type of lifestyle they’ve chosen- multiple luxury vehicles, McMansions filled to the brim with fancy electronics and other consumer goods, designer clothing & accessories, exotic vacations, memberships to expensive gyms and country clubs, manicures and facials, etc. These women I’m positive could easily afford to work part-time or be homemakers if they were willing to downsize their lifestyles.

    When I see them at the playground on weekends, they’re totally ignoring their kids in favor of yakking to one another about said luxuries: “How was your trip to Maui?””Your shoes are so adorable, are they Prada?””Have you tried that new Pilates studio?” Makes me absolutely sick!

    By contrast, the middle-class working moms of my acquaintance are there spending time actually interacting with their kids.

  15. Margo/Mom

    Wow, homeschooling gets thrown in there as one of the causes of poor public schools. But two working parents elevate society as a whole. I personally don’t care whether you work or not. But it’s obvious you have your own issues about other people’s choices too.

  16. “But two working parents elevate society as a whole”

    I believe that was my initial point. Crimson believes two working parents is a selfish choice.

  17. instead of drawing conclusions based on a tiny article by newsweek about a study where no one reported on what they controlled for, has anyone, say, read the study? or have an ungated abstract at least?

  18. Margo-
    You either need to improve your reading comprehension or pay more attention to what’s written in these comments. Crimson said “Moms who are working for selfish reasons…”, and that pretty much specifies mothers who work for selfish reasons. This statement does not apply to working mothers in general, nor does it assume that working mothers are selfish.
    As for the need for Crimson to “clarify” the reasons that women in her social circle work for, one would normally assume that since they do socialize she would know enough about them to make that assumption. I can also attest that I have known two-working-parent households where the parents only need to work to support their high-consumption lifestyle.

  19. “instead of drawing conclusions based on a tiny article by newsweek about a study where no one reported on what they controlled for, has anyone, say, read the study? or have an ungated abstract at least?”

    Ditto. This is a lot of fuss and a lot of crazy conclusions over a bit of correlation.

  20. “I can also attest that I have known two-working-parent households where the parents only need to work to support their high-consumption lifestyle.”

    And they have told you that this is their (or rather her–since that was the original charge) only motivation for working?


    On this page, you can find a link to the working paper.

    I know both working and at-home parents who arrange their days so as to spend little to no time with their children. Neither group has a monopoly on virtue.

    When both parents work full-time as executives, and both parents frequently travel, then, perforce the nanny is raising the kids. Or nannies.

  22. Here’s another example of the type of selfishness I’m talking about that I came across this morning. On the email list for the mothers’ club in my town, there came a message from a woman I know who has 2 pre-school aged kids (2ish and 4ish). She’s a full-time corporate attorney married to another corporate attorney. In this message, she announced that she’s organizing a *WEEKEND* trip to a spa a couple of hours away at the bargain price of $230 per day (cost of treatments not included)! So after being away from her young kids all week, she’s going to spend big bucks to go off to some spa for the entire weekend?

    I can certainly understand the need for a “girls’ night out” every now and then, but two full days’ worth at a cost of $560 plus whatever is spent on beauty treatments????

    Why even bother having kids at all if you’re not willing to put their needs ahead of your own selfish desires?

  23. That should read $460 not $560…

  24. Selfish, unselfish, or otherwise… there is a bigger issue here about making blanket statements.

    These comments are judgmental at best and betray feelings of inadequacy and bias.

    Regarding the study….

    I believe it is about children seeing and appreciating parents motivations. Mom works because she has to in order to feed, cloth, and educate you, you see her pain and appreciate it more, and even do your share by doing a good job.

    Mom works because she wants to and gives you a ton of money and goodies out of guilt, you don’t appreciate it and are more likely to slack off.

    Still there are those on both sides who do not fit this model.

  25. This was a well written article, and if the authors did their analysis as they claimed they did, then their data is impressive.

    This isn’t just a minor correlation, nor is it a correlation due to something as grossly defined as IQ. The authors controlled for a very large number of variables, including effects that were nonlinear. Their pattern holds up–even at LOW numbers of hours by the high-SES working mothers. It’s not simply the case that the 80 hour a week home had the drawbacks; a statistically significant but smaller effect was seen for smaller numbers of hours.

    And based on the related papers they point to, it seems that most of the other papers have done far less work at considering a wider model or more variables, so when they’ve disagreed with these results, it’s because their model didn’t control for as many other aspects of the data.

    I wouldn’t dismiss it so casually, nor argue it’s “obvious” what the paper says is true. Read the paper.

  26. Margo,

    Please stay down for the count.